Friday, October 26, 2007

fox beats badger

If you drive the road between Plitvice and Zadar, make sure to stop at a restaurant somewhere just south of Plitvice. I can't remember the name, but it's on the left as you head south. You can use the facilities, get something to eat, and take in the display of taxidermied animals playing cards and accordions.

Taxidermy humor aside, my one gnarly moment during this trip was seeing a fox get shot in Slovenia. I wasn't sure I wanted to write about it, since animal death upsets lots of people, but decided that glossing over the bad is sort of like pretending it didn't happen. I had rented a bicycle from the hostel in Postojna to bike to Predjama Castle, and took a detour down a smooth country road. On my way back up I noticed a hound dog playing with what I originally thought was a smaller dog - they were bouncing around, and the hound was wagging his tail. By the time I had gotten within stone's throw, I realized it was a fox, and the hound had it cowering in the grass. He still looked like he was playing around; I've never seen a hunting hound in action before, so maybe they wag their tails when they have a cornered quarry. Cybele's hound only hunts chew toys and food treats, so he's not really an ideal study. I almost didn't notice the man with the rifle appear. He missed with the first shot, and for a moment I thought perhaps he was just trying to scare it away, but no suck luck. I turned away at the last second, both times. If it's any consolation, the fox looked sickly — it was missing all the fur on its hindquarters. And it wasn't trapped at all by the hound; they were in the middle of a field, and some trees weren't so far away, so a successful getaway dash wasn't inconceivable. Maybe it wasn't long for this world anyway. I thought about saying something to the guy, but what was there to say. It was in the middle of farm country. I just pedaled away, feeling odd. It was such a weird and unexpected thing to see. An ugly moment in a beautiful country.

And now that I have you all thoroughly depressed, I'll try to lift your spirits with the amusing tale of the end of Erasmus Lueger, one of the more infamous residents of Predjama Castle (we're still back in Slovenia for another second). After murdering a relation of the Austrian emperor, this back in the fifteenth century, he holed up in the castle and withstood a siege by receiving supplies through a secret, natural cave passage in the rock. Predjama Castle as a building is rather plain to look at, but it has a rather dramatic location, smushed up into a huge cavern in a rock face. Betrayed by a servant, Erasmus met his ignominious end when the enemy blew him to bits. Did I mention he was in the toilet at the time? That's the funny part.

I also took this picture of a skull while at Predjama, and it's a good visual representation of what the road between Plitvice and Zadar feels like.

I've always been able to read in cars, but about halfway there I had to put away my materials and look out the window, thus keeping my breakfast in my stomach and intestines, where it belonged.

I had planned on staying in Zadar for two nights, but after about an hour walking around the old town, realized I had seen about all there was to see. Zadar is one of Croatia's many towns that has been inhabited since the days of yore, at least back to the Romans. There's usually a condensed old town section with shiny marble streets, old buildings representing different architectural styles, lots of churches, and chunks of city walls. Modern cities have sprung up and spread out around the outside, and businesses catering to the tourist trade have infected the inside. I don't know if it's because I was there on a Saturday, or because the high season is over, but pretty much everything except the cafés and restaurants were closed. Even the tourist office was locked up. Not that I mind empty towns, it just doesn't take very long to see them when no one is in the way. It was the antithesis of my Mediterranean summer experiences. I spent more time parked in a wireless café than walking around.

Arriving back at the hostel, who was sitting in the common room but Janet, the Australian from Zagreb. She was headed to where I came from, and I was headed to where she had been. We swapped information, and watched the Rocky Horror Picture Show on television. Let's do the time warp!

Continuing the southward journey the next day, I went to Šibenik for the afternoon, arriving just in time to see a bit of pageantry. I'm not sure what was going on, but there were several women in Ren Faire-ish costumes, some tables selling handicrafts, and two different groups of guys wearing military uniforms, although I don't know from which period. As far as I could tell, it was some sort of signing ceremony, but all the participants kept stopping to compose their groups for formal photos, and most of the spectators, including me, lost interest and wandered off. Šibenik street are a bit like Venice; it's built up a hillside, and the old, narrow streets wind, turn, and climb in every direction, and sometime just dead end into someone's front door. You can't tell where you'll end up before you turn the corner. It was more of a ghost town than Zadar. Cue crickets and tumbleweeds.

Dare I say it? I was a wee bit bored. I should have done Zadar and Šibenik in one day, they are only a couple of hours apart by bus. I don't want to say they have no value at all, it was just too much of the same. Not only one after another, but also after all the Istrian towns. On the bus down to Split that evening, I ended up sitting next to a guy from Redwood City who asked me if I been in any town where I thought, you know, I don't need to be here anymore. Yeah, Šibenik. The bus to Split was standing room only. Maybe everyone else wanted to get out of there as well.

Fashion/etymology lesson for the day: the cravat originated as part of Croatian military attire, and the word is a corruption of the words Croat and Hrvat. Ponder that the next time you don a necktie. And the fountain pen was also invented by a Croatian, Slavoljub Penkala, although I think the first syllable of his surname is coincidental. I wonder what his handwriting looked like. Bad penmanship is my pet peeve. Grrraar.

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